When the Smoke Clearsby Jacqueline Bull November 6, 2018
At the GI Film Festival in San Diego this past September, a film titled “When The Smoke Clears,” won best documentary feature. “When the Smoke Clears” directed by Rebecca Shore, tells the true stories of Israeli soldiers helping each other to return to society and rebuild their lives with serious injuries.
This is the director’s second film, but she had been involved in film production as partial director, producer, or writer roles for numerous films.
“I did really want to have the opportunity and challenge to do the full directing job, which isn’t just being on the shoots, but it is also being responsible for you know so much other things like the look and feel of the film and the whole animation and the music, so you know it was a real chance to step and go for a whole other opportunity in terms of creativity and input and stuff. And it was big. It was a lot of work. I really had a new appreciation for the directors I worked with after directing this film,” Rebecca said.
Rebecca and her husband work together at Imagination Productions and are often approached with films or pitches to produce. One of these films included a story about a brotherhood of wounded soldiers that help support each other and the individual experiences of two soldiers.
“Gil’s story and Ofer’s story were so compelling, that my husband was like ‘Well if you guys are interested, we would be willing to take this and basically remake it,’” she said.
“It was amazing to meet these guys. They are just incredible people. And being in their presence is really such an honor. They’ve had many people ask to make films about them and they agreed to let us do it, so it was just really an opportunity, kind of ‘How can you say no when they’re giving us a chance?’” she said.
One of the most striking parts of the film is the animated sequences of the veterans’ recounting the missions that led to their traumas. These black and white animations put the audience into the middle of the action and along with the narration from the soldiers, the scenes are immensely evocative and immersive. It is so well executed that it is a surprise to know that the choice to do animations initially was because the film didn’t have the budget to do a live action remake.
“We had to get real creative, basically [laughs]. I think it stretches you as a director when you have limitations. Which I think comes up more in documentaries because you are dealing with live people,” she said.
Limitations like how much access and time an interviewee can grant and getting people to explain painful stories that make it difficult to want to sit and tell in front of a camera.
Rebecca explained they were not able to do the stories service with a live action remake, but animations done tastefully without blood and gore would be better for the film.
While this is not the only film to try and shed light on PTSD, Rebecca explained she connected with the aspect of hope and how their community is helping people move forward in life after their trauma.
“The idea of vulnerability, the idea of resilience – it’s not just what they went through, it is the ability to get up and rebuild your life. There is such a universal message in that for people that we felt strongly that is something we really want to share,” she said.
Winning best documentary feature at the GI Film Festival showed that they resonated with people close to the story. And in showing a film about Israeli soldiers to an American audience, this illustrated both the differences in the cultures surrounding the military and the universality of being a combat soldier, (“War is war and trauma is trauma. There is a common language that all these soldiers have.”)
In Israel, the mandatory draft and the experience of being at war for so many years creates a unique sensibility.
“Everybody here knows someone in the army. And we all as a country experienced multiple wars. I think the Israeli experience, when it comes to veterans, when it comes to the army, it is culturally different… Part of the film was to explain that culture,” she said.
While there is significant support for soldiers in and out of combat in Israel, Rebecca explains there is a tradition of sorts of not wanting to undermine morale by sharing the realities of their experiences. “The need to be strong permeates society here,” she adds.
But just as the brotherhood of wounded soldiers is hopeful, so is Rebecca, “Films are powerful. They can really open people’s hearts and minds and give them a different perspective. It is kind of addicting [laughs].”
The film is still making the rounds of film festivals both in the U.S. and abroad and is slated to be released on Amazon video this winter. You can also request a community screening on their website at imaginationproductions.com.